For fish and chips lovers, it’s ‘Istanbul’When Kim Young-soo opened his Istanbul kebab shop last November, he had one thing in mind ― providing foreign food that expats here would love, and,?maybe more importantly, keeping the prices low.
He recalled the time he’d lived in Melbourne, Australia about five years earlier, studying English. “If I got a craving for Korean food, I had to think twice, because the Korean restaurants were so expensive,” he said.
More often, he would opt for Melbourne’s ubiquitous take-away food counters, which offer kebabs, souvlakis, fish and chips and the like, around the clock.
In time, Mr. Kim took a particular liking to fish and chips. So, back in Seoul a few years later, and ready to pursue his lifelong dream of running a small restaurant, fish and chips seemed the way to go.
Thus began Istanbul, at the entrance of Gyeongnidan, down from the Noksapyeong subway station toward Namsan tunnel. Granted, “Istanbul” doesn’t conjure up thoughts of fish and chips ― rather, it signifies what else is on the fusion menu, Middle Eastern grub.
The menu is pretty straightforward ― you can choose from chicken, beef or lamb kebabs, all cooked on kebab grills in the front of the store, and priced no higher than 3,500 won ($3.50). Or opt for my favorite eastern Mediterranean treat, falafel, at 3,000 won.? Add chips and a soft drink, and the bill’s only 5,000 won.
And then there’s the specialty ― the fish and chips.? Mr. Kim is proud to charge only 5,000 won per order, which consists of an ample cut of tender white fish in a beer batter cooked to just the right crunchy effect. And it’s all nicely presented in a wooden bowl with the chips, the salt, soy sauce and other fixings.
The 5,000 won price is especially low when compared with the few other restaurants in Seoul that serve fish and chips, like Geckos or O’Kims, which charge three to five times as much.
And a bonus ― just steps away from Istanbul is a new Thai joint, Buddha’s Belly, which is also inexpensive; and up the road a bit is everyone’s favorite cheap Mexican eatery, Taco. The three make that little corner Itaewon’s?hub of cheap exotic eats.
All three have warm and personal interiors. But Istanbul’s, with rust-tiled floors and whitewashed walls, is the friendliest.? The space has WiFi Internet access, so you’ll see an English teacher at a booth with eyes trained on a laptop. And one corner is stacked with books and magazines. The sound track is cool, low-volume electronica. All in all, an exceedingly styling place.
Mr. Kim, who goes by the name “Joe,” says business is good so far, but he doesn’t have any ambitions yet to expand. “People love our place, and they’re happy, so that makes me content. I just want people to come here and enjoy the food.” Judging by the other night, when I dropped in, they do.
by Mike Ferrin